Informative Quotes

The informative quotations below were collected in an interview with our partners in North Carolina, Tom Belt and TJ Holland. Their descriptions of various aspects of the stickball game provide us with new insights into the game, and help us to understand stickball from a new perspective. As enthusiasts of the stickball tradition, we no longer have to rely solely on the accounts of ethnographers from past generations. In this section we here the voices of new ethnographers, and their wisdom and experience with the game on the stickball tradition, past and present. (Sound bites will be added soon to help bring these quotes to life.)

Tom Belt:

On Stickball and its Judiciary Function: “If it is decided and there is no other way to adjudicate a conflict, then the last resort was to play stickball and at the end of the game it was done; the matter was settled and no body could argue with it. It was a way in which we, as human beings, could effectively exercise justice in a way that wasn’t manipulative and did not destroy or did not change the natural rules of the world”

On the Stickball Origin Myth: “The old story is that we learned to play stickball from the birds and animals. And their way of playing it of course would have been much, much different from how we played it. It’s not so much the sticks, the balls, or the goals, that really defined the game. It was the process by which things were adjudicated. And so we learned justice; we learned integrity; we learned balance from birds and animals”

Stickball and the Community: “The stickball game was in fact a type of a ceremony; it was a justice ceremony, initiated for a result, participated in to its extreme, and in the end, it produces the results that need to be in existence in order to maintain balance”

“The stickball ceremony was a way to connect with who we are, and our purpose in a very short period of time, in such a way that would bring about justice among ourselves, without interfering with anything else”

“Communities would amass total community support of their stickball team. The whole town would show up on both sides”


TJ Holland:

Preparing for the Game: “There is a lot more to the game of stickball then just playing the game. The night before there would be dancing all night, getting ready for the game and discussions of its importance as “the little brother of war”, because it prevented entire towns from clashing and beating each other to bits. They did certain ceremonies before a game, they had men work with each team to safeguard the team and hopefully ensure victory in the game. The game was much more than just playing the game; there were ceremonies that were done prior to the game; and there were dances that went on before the game”

The Rules of Stickball: “There are only three or four rules particular to the game of stickball that deal with how high the ball can go up before you pick it up, and these days, there are added rules that one doesn’t hit with the stick and doesn’t choke with the stick. These are the rules in existence today, and that goes just for demonstration games, so there were probably even fewer rules when the games were played for real”

“In stickball, if you are going to tackle a man, you never tackle him by his clothing. If that’s all you can get a hold of, let it go, because it makes you look like less of a man to tackle somebody that way. If you’re a serious player, you are going to make a clean hit. You’re going to make a clean tackle. It shows desperation to do otherwise and desperation is not part of the game”

“In a stickball game there was no timer or clock; there was no getting in a hurry about how long the game would take. These games would go on sometimes for days. The point of the game is to score twelve goals, which decided the winner. They would play into the night, and then at night they would catch their breath and continue some of the things they were doing before, and then go back to the game as soon as the sun broke the next morning”

“Sometimes men would die playing this game. But in fairness, as the teams come to the middle of the field and challenges are called and all, the drivers would pair the men up. Each team had a driver, kind of a referee, and they had to agree on who matched up against whom. As the game went, if one man did get hurt, and was unable to continue, the man he was paired with would have to step off the field as well. So that there was never unequal numbers and there was always that even number and that sense of doing it the right way”

“The stickball games are important, even if the game is just being played as a demonstration, because it still teaches your people the old values”

“Most communities in Cherokee have their own respective stickball teams. Sometimes they play against one another, and sometimes they’ll play amongst themselves”

“At certain times in history, and within different communities, stickball was a very unifying game for both men and boys…Boys who were taught how to play stickball were taught the principles of how to act and behave; you know don’t jerk the man down by his shorts, and don’t grab his hair. There is a right way for all of our actions, and this lesson came from stickball”

“Stickball not only taught integrity, it taught courage, and it taught value, so that one would know what he was being courageous for, that it had purpose, and that it was had worth”